Labour seeks to cash in on Tory infighting with business charm offensive

Sir Keir Starmer will on Monday tell Labor to change its “instincts” and focus as much on boosting growth as on the redistribution of wealth, as he tries to wrest the mantle of economic competence from the Conservatives.

Starmer believes the fractious Tory leadership contest has offered Labor a chance to regain the public’s trust on the economy, following its crushing 2019 election defeat under Jeremy Corbyn.

His speech in Liverpool is part of an attempt by the Labor leader and his team, largely taking place below the political radar, to woo business leaders and to show Labor is ready for power.

The party says demand for exhibition space at its annual conference in Liverpool is at a 15-year high and that its business forum at the same event has sold out in record time.

Rishi Sunak, former chancellor, told colleagues last week that the Conservatives “are finished” if they allow Labor to be seen as a more trustworthy custodian of the economy.

Sunak has accused his rival Liz Truss of engaging in “something for nothing” economics by offering unfunded tax cuts, while Truss has accused the ex-chancellor of driving Britain towards a recession.

Starmer, at the start of a two-day visit to Liverpool with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, will try to capitalize on the Tory infighting, saying: “There will be no ‘magic money tree’ economics with us.

“With me and Rachel Reeves you will always get sound finances, careful spending, strong, secure and fair growth.” He will say that the choice at the next election will be between “Labour growth and Tory stagnation”.

Starmer will say that Labor will fight the next election on economic growth and the need to boost productivity, arguing that it is the only way to generate wealth and spread it across the country; an industrial strategy council would set strategic national priorities over a long time frame; and that Labor saw the pursuit of net zero carbon goals as an essential part of its growth plan.

Starmer will say that his focus on growth would challenge his party’s instincts: “It pushes us to care as much about growth and productivity as we have done about redistribution and investment in the past.”

Labour’s policy prospectus on the economy remains sketchy, but Starmer and his shadow ministers have been busy trying to persuade corporate Britain that the party has changed.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds, along with Starmer and Reeves, say that they have met bosses from nearly half the FTSE 100, echoing a similar charm offensive by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the mid-1990s.

“It was a prawn cocktail offensive back then but things have moved on,” said Reynolds. “It’s more of a guinea fowl offensive now.” He said Labor would be “pro-business and pro-worker”.

Labor is trying to capitalize on what it claims is the mistrust between the sector and Boris Johnson’s government: the prime minister famously said “fuck business” in relation to corporate concerns over Brexit.

Senior Labor officials claim that former Tory donors are in “active conversations” with the opposition party and that it has created a beefed-up “business engagement team” to strengthen links with boardrooms.

An ally of Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, said: “Labor can promise businesses the world, because they’ll never be in power to implement it.”

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